In a way 2017 has been the year cryptocurrencies have been waiting for. Disregarded by many as a fanciful and fleeting tech trend, cryptocurrency has been steadily gaining in legitimacy. Bitcoin in particular—the leader in this area by a wide margin, in terms of value—exceeded $4,000 in price, and some believe that a $10,000 price point could be imminent This doesn’t mean we’ll all be using Bitcoins in our day-to-day lives anytime soon. In fact, many people still scoff at the idea, and plenty of merchants are still slow to accept cryptocurrency in exchanges. But the skyrocketing value does mean that cryptocurrency ought to be taken seriously, both as an alternative to ordinary money and as a potential investment asset.
As has long been the case this emerging (or perhaps surging) technology isn’t just about Bitcoin. Altcoins are also part of the market and are broadly defined as alternatives to Bitcoin. Some are essentially pale imitations of Bitcoin, but as one overview at a site providing predictions and information about other cultural events put it, many are sufficiently distinct enough to warrant further attention. Some emphasize the blockchain for new tech ventures; some provide cryptocurrencies as tokens for various services, and some are simply vying for space in the digital currency market. Keeping all of this in mind, here are some of the most valuable, interesting, and exciting Altcoin options for 2017.
– Litecoin has long been recognized as perhaps the most direct alternative to Bitcoin, and it’s precisely for this reason that it’s been so interesting to watch this year. It’s actually been trading quite low (the price was under $55 for the entirety of July), but some believe that as Bitcoin rises, Litecoin may follow suit. If nothing else, it could serve as a cheaper alternative for those who missed the boat on early Bitcoin investment and would like to buy into cryptocurrency.
As for differentiating factors, there really aren’t many. More than any other prominent Altcoin, Litecoin is effectively identical to Bitcoin in its use, blockchain network, and purpose. The only real differences of note are that certain technologies at play in Litecoin allow for a higher number of transactions at any one time, and quicker transactions in general. That means that a purchase or sale using Litecoin will go through more quickly than it might with Bitcoin.
– Generally speaking, Ethereum is the strongest of the Altcoins. At the time of this writing, it’s priced just over $215 – the highest value of any cryptocurrency not called Bitcion. Ethereum functions much like Bitcoin and also uses the Blockchain ledger to track transactions, though it has some differences. Most noteworthy is that it features smart-contracts, facilitating not just peer-to-peer transfers but more formal exchanges between individuals. Basically, you can make a contract with another individual, and it’s written into the Ethereum blockchain as code. The transaction is then conducted automatically when relevant assets are made available.
Put more broadly, Ethereum is like a more versatile blockchain network. Bitcoin made the blockchain famous by using it to facilitate cash transfers. Ethereum uses the same technological foundation to allow for the code for additional applications. The “smart contracts” are merely examples of those applications. That said, there is still a digital currency attached to the tech (called Ether, or sometimes just Ethereum) that can be bought, stored, and traded much like Bitcoin can, which is to say just through a cryptocurrency vendor.
– This is primarily a cloud storage technology, but the attached SiaCoin is definitely something worth paying attention to. The idea is that Sia offers more secure cloud storage by breaking up users’ data into pieces and storing those pieces in different places. You can more or less volunteer to use some of your spare digital space for that storage, and in return you can be paid in digital currency.
The process also works in reverse. By downloading a relevant wallet program and paying for SiaCoins of your own, you can then use those coins to purchase storage space of your own, as an alternative to other cloud services you might use. Incidentally, transactions involving storage space are made possible by smart contracts similar to those that exist in Ethereum. It’s a means of guaranteeing that you get the space you’re paying for, or that you’re being compensated for any space you’re providing to others. It’s not necessarily the most functional Altcoin in for everyday usage, but it’s an interesting one for certain purposes.
– Ripple has been around long enough to make a little bit of a name for itself among cryptocurrencies, though its price of about $0.15 will barely register next to some of its competition. That shouldn’t matter so much as you consider it as a Bitcoin alternative, however, because it’s really not used in the same way.
Ripple is basically about making international bank transactions a little bit safer and more secure. This is the rare cryptocurrency venture that actually works with banks, basically to install blockchains to make it easier to send money overseas without worrying about how many different transactions will have to take place in the meantime. For those who have to do a lot of international business, or even those who travel frequently, it can be a reassuring alternative to ordinary means of currency transfer. The difference on the surface is that these transactions are conducted with XRP, which is the name for Ripple’s actual currency.
– This is an option that’s exploded in a big way in 2017. With a market cap of more than $1 billion it’s built to be a major player in the market. And it may have the unique features to do it. Most interesting of all is the idea that it allows users to create their own sub-blockchains within the greater Stratis blockchain. This could have a huge impact for companies, peer networks and entire industries that would want to utilize this technology themselves.
Functionally, Stratis is most useful as a sort of token system within its own sub-blockchain networks. The company’s own page describes it as a platform rather than a coin, and it’s mostly meant to adapt the blockchain technology for more specified uses. That said, people can buy and use Stratis tokens much like any other digital currency within this platform, further expanding its appeal.
– This is actually a new altcoin that emerged this year, based in Switzerland. It’s more about the development of a new program than a new currency, however, and has been described as a combination between DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) and Kickstarter. That is to say, it’s basically a blockchain-based crowd funding concept with a crytpocurrency reward program for backers (or investors).
When you invest in a project on Kickstarter, typically you get some kind of reward specific to the product or business you’re backing. You might get early access to sales, for instance, or a discounted price on a beta product. With Wings, however, you’ll get tokens, as well as a stake in the project. You’re essentially exchanging a cash investment for “Wings,” in the hopes that they’ll gain value (about $0.59 at the time of this writing) and that the project you’re backing will take off as well. It’s a good deal for backers and an interesting new platform for crowdfunding ventures.
– This is another brand new altcoin that first emerged in February and already has a market cap exceeding $290 million. It looks to tap into the idea of being rewarded for predictions, which is something we’re seeing more and more of in fringe betting games online. For instance, ESPN’s “Streak For Cash” program offers a cash reward each month to the sports fan who establishes the longest streak of correctly picked outcomes; Predict-It has emerged as a sort of mock stock market for predictions in political news. These types of activities are getting quite popular, both as games and as means of seeking out income, and Gnosis is looking to tap into this popularity.
You’ve probably figured out the basic format by now: basically, it’s a prediction market that rewards you with cryptocurrency for correct predictions. Gnosis’s co-founders state on the program website that prediction opportunities range from the weather to election results, meaning that there are plenty of different ways to speculate and, if you know better than most, earn tokens in exchange. Gnosis is currently worth about $170.
This is a name to know, not just for 2017 alternative investments, but potentially for understanding the future of cryptocurrency. Golem had a massive March release, immediately catapulting inside the top 20 most valuable cryptocurrencies in the world – and that’s saying something, given how many of them are out there these days.
Golem’s a little tricky to understand if you stick to the basic description that it’s an “attempt to create a decentralized internet,” which is a phrase you’ll find if you research the currency. But as one article better describes it, Golem is going to pay individuals to share leftover CPU space (in laptops and desktops) for storage. The idea is to decentralize general cloud storage, such that when people save files they aren’t trusting a single server with those files, but rather are spreading them out to a bunch of different devices and servers. It’s a big, bold idea and one that won’t necessarily materialize overnight, but its quick growth and high value shows Golem’s potential. It’s certainly an intriguing system if you have some spare storage space, or if you’re looking for a cryptocurrency investment.
– Ardor is a fairly comprehensive cryptocurrency option, offering much of what people have come to expect from better-known options like Bitcoin and Litecoin. But it’s set itself apart from competitors to some extent by implementing what it calls “child chains,” which are basically smaller versions of its blockchain. It’s somewhat like a version of the smart contract concept we mentioned with regard to Ethereum, though it’s more about fully customizing your own blockchain for any sort of business or private venture. Naturally, these “child chains” could have virtually unlimited uses.
Ardor has a fairly robust market cap, close to $140 million, though its price is currently quite low. It’s roughly $0.13 per Ardor, though it may be worth mentioning it was nearly double that in early July. Like many cryptocurrencies, the value in this situation appears to be somewhat volatile, though this is still an altcoin to watch out for. As more people get to know it, its unique features could make it quite popular.
– We’ll close out with Dogecoin because with all the different cryptocurrencies and their various complexities, it’s perhaps the most enjoyable concept of the bunch. Dogecoin started off as something of a joke back in 2013, almost mocking Bitcoin with a picture of a dog on the face of its coins. In the time since, however, it has grown steadily more popular. It now has a market cap of nearly $200 million, though it’s still a far, far less valuable alternative. Right now, Dogecoin is worth about $0.0017
You can buy and sell Dogecoin much like other top cryptocurrencies in that you can simply visit an exchange, set up a wallet, and buy and sell using encrypted keys. However, this particular currency also has a unique use in that there are places online where it’s exchanged essentially as a form of “liking” a post or comment. Instead of merely up-voting someone for instance, you can actually toss him or her a Dogecoin as a means of approval. It’s a unique idea that hasn’t caught on particularly broadly yet, though the concept of monetizing internet approval still seems to have potential that Dogecoin hasn’t fully capitalized on.
This list could continue to go on for quite some time, actually. There are a lot more altcoins out there, and in any given month you might begin to hear about any of them. Many have fairly volatile price points, which means they might jump up and gain some publicity at any time. But the listed options above should give you a fairly good idea of a broad range of established and interesting altcoins serving various purposes and clocking in with different values. Any can make for an interesting alternative to Bitcoin, or to the standard Bitcoin blockchain.